It is hard to believe that 3 whole months have already passed since we arrived in Tanzania. In some ways it feels as though we have learned so much since we arrived. In other ways I am overwhelmed by the amount that we still do not know (largely because we have high standard for ourselves and do not like not knowing things).
The following are items that have consumed the majority of our time during our first 3 months in Geita:
As planned, the majority of our time thus far has been devoted to language and culture learning, as we are unable to move forward with other work plans until we are able to communicate with others. Though initially we planned on going to language school for about 10 straight weeks, shortly before our arrival our teammates learned that it is now possible to pay a teacher to come to you. There were quite a few pros and cons to this option, but in the end we decided that was the best option for our family because it would: drastically cut the cost of language school (which allows us to use some of our initial costs to cover our ongoing monthly gap in our budget for a while as we continue to seek other financial partners), allow our oldest two children to go ahead and start school, allow time for us to begin settling into life due to the fact that our overlap with the Groens would be shorter than originally planned, we would have more opportunities to practice what we were learning outside of a classroom setting, and we would know the people who would be watching our youngest two children rather than leaving them with childcare strangers at the language school immediately after uprooting them from everything that they knew.
At this time, we have completed 7 weeks of language school (we took a 2 week break to attempt to absorb the information that we had been taught and put it into practice). Both Scott and I are now able to have conversations with others, and though we in no way are able to understand everything that is said to us, we are often able to understand the general gist. I am able to shop independently at the market and dukas and we can carry simple conversations with the Neema House staff. We are planning on more school later in January or early in February.
Immediately upon arrival, we were informed that there were plans to roll out a child sponsorship program for the kids at Neema House by Thanksgiving to help cover operating expenses. Scott worked tirelessly to make this possible by designing the website, implementing online payments, and corresponding with the Stateside Coordinator for the child sponsorship and Board of Directors of Neema House to gather information and answer questions. This was rolled out just before Thanksgiving and as of January 1 ALL 13 kids are fully sponsored!! You can check out his work at neemahouse.org.
I have been been able to assist with the placement of 4 more children at Neema House, including one that had extreme medical needs due to malnutrition and dehydration. Despite my initial promises to Scott that these children would not be coming into our home, we immediately agreed that was necessary to ensure her constant care as we attempted to nurse her back to health after the doctors had told her that nothing could be done to save her. I am happy to say that after a rough two weeks dealing with her illness and seizures, this child is doing well and growing and developing with any further complications.
We have also been attempting to learn how payroll is handled for the staff, meet some of the local and regional social welfare officers, and make observations about basic functioning so that we have ideas on things we want to first start on when we officially take over as Directors in February.
In December we both spent time with the Neema House Attorney / Manager to better understand procedures when kids are brought to NH, payroll, monthly finances, etc. We already have learned a lot and are excited about how we can improve some areas. Scott is already working on compiling financial information for the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) report that is required to be filed with the Tanzania authority.
Caleb and Levi have completed the first term of their International School. The school has approximately 20-25 students from 8 different countries and they are age 3 to age 11 so class sizes are small. We have been impressed with curriculum and the teachers' willingness to adapt to each child's needs. The boys have settled in well and are enjoying their days there. They have been able to participate in after school activities such as soccer, rugby, cooking, and swimming, and they were part of the school Christmas program just before the holiday break.
At this time, we are living in the guest house on the Neema House property and we will move into the Director's home at the beginning of January to allow 3-4 weeks to learn the quirks of the house before the Groens move back in February. The boys love playing outside, especially with the other children on our team, and have even all developed farmer tans (which I did not think was possible).
Due to limited space at this time, we are unable to stock up on much, so I have to go to the market at least 4 times a week to get food for our meals. Because we must make everything from scratch and do not yet have a house worker, it typically takes 2-3 hours to prepare dinner. We also wash dishes at least 4 times a day, which typically takes about half an hour each time. We look forward to having a house worker when we move into the bigger home to help shave some of this time off so it can be devoted to more pressing matters. In this culture, it is expected to have house / yard workers to help contribute to the economy so that we are providing more jobs for people. We plan to keep all of the employees (house worker, night guards, and yard worker) that the Groens have had.
We have also been working to learn about cultural rules / expectations, where things are, and how to drive on horrible roads with seemingly no road rules. I have had the opportunity to go to a village to visit a church that one of our teammates has been working with and Scott has had the opportunity to accompany a teammate to Rwanda to learn about the customs process, meet some missionaries there, and learn where things are since Kigali is one of the closest big cities should we need to buy appliances, receive medical / dental care, or look for other things that are not available in our town.
We have weekly worship / devotional time with our teammates. This allows us the chance to worship together and develop deeper relationships with each other and recharge our batteries in a culture that constantly drains our energy and time due to outside expectations. I am also participating in a weekly Bible study with the other ladies on our team. Additionally, we have also participated in Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations with our team as a fun way to carry on our American traditions. We included the Neema House kids in our Halloween festivities and took them on a makeshift "hayride" and had them go trick or treating to the different doors in the home.
We recently had visitors from North Boulevard Church of Christ (the sponsoring congregation for the Groens), including one Neema House Board Member and the founder of BoroDash (one of the main funders for Neema House).
The Groens were out of town for two weeks and we are caring for their three girls, while also juggling language classes, our own children, meals, learning about Neema House, and life in general. We also had a Team Christmas part for all of our kids in addition to Christmas day activities. We had several families from the Mwanza and Tabora teams in Geita for New Year’s Eve Extravaganza which was a lot of fun to meet them again, and some for the first time. It is also great to see how quickly kids become friends and just start playing together. Life is busy.
As we move forward toward the next 3 months, we have much in store already on top of continuing to learn as much we can about life and the operations of Neema House:
- Transitioning to the Director's home
- Developing new contracts for the employees
- Another 2 weeks of language school
- Celebrating both Scott and Asher's birthdays
- Discussions / Meetings regarding the future work / collaboration between the Geita mission team and the Mwanza mission team
- Get new tires for our vehicle and learn more about where things are in Mwanza (the other closest big city to us)
- Taking over officially as Directors of Neema House
- Groens move back to the States
- Celebrating Isaac's birthday
- Men's Missionary Retreat in Kenya
- Possibly more language classes
- Visit Forever Angels, a more long-standing baby home in Mwanza (3-5 hours away) to glean information and ideas from them about things that work well in this culture
- Welcome friends of both the Harrisons and ours who are from the States and help support our work here
- Women’s Missionary Retreat in Kenya
- Possibly more language classes
- I’m sure more things will come up in March, but we have a full 2 months before then
As we move forward and look at our upcoming roles and responsibilities with Neema House, some of the initial objectives / goals that we have identified are (**Note: We will not be able to complete most of these in the next quarter due to the fact that we will not be stepping into the director roles until February and it takes time to make some of these things happen, but I wanted to share our current list of future goals):
- Follow up on any projects that Calvin is unable to complete before moving back (ie: obtaining the official operational license for Neema House, construction of equipment for the home, etc...)
- Develop a general form to gather necessary information that is required by Tanzania to support the current NGO status. These need to be submitted to the other workers under the Neema House visas in Arusha and Dar Es Salaam
- Foster relationships with the other workers under Neema House throughout the country
- Make a trip to Arusha to see the work being done in that Neema House baby home
- Standardize the bookkeeping process for all Neema House money
- Review the scheduling process of Neema House staff and examine at what point additional staff should be hired. A structured hiring process should also be established
- Learn about the placement process, forms that must be completed, documents that must be kept / filed
- Create documentation processes for the care given to the children and create more structure in the current daily schedule
- Explore places for our albino child to have his eyes checked and hopefully get glasses due to having obviously poor vision
- Continue to foster relationships with local social welfare offices and begin exploring the possibility of developing a foster care program
- Learn more about other social welfare programs in the region to develop relationships and determine whether we are able to support each other
- Explore opportunities for children who have families that are currently unable to care for them to be able to visit their families. As the ultimate goal for these children is to return home, I am interested in taking these children to visit their families with some sort of regularity so that they: know their families, are more familiar with the environment to which they will hopefully return to reduce the trauma of that future transition as much as possible, and allow us to assess the needs of the family in their environment to determine if there are ways we could continue to support these children and families after they return home. We also think this could be a great avenue into starting Bible studies with new families in the future.
Thank you so much for all of your support. We are so thankful for all of the support we have been given, whether monetarily, spiritually, or emotionally! The encouragement we receive from others on a regular basis help us get through some of the more trying times. Please continue to keep as in your prayers as we continue to get settled and move into our long term work with Neema House.